Mark Greenwood & Kitty Hope: 'I was hoping for a fireplace - and ended up with a marriage'

The former antiques dealer and the former children's book designer co-founded the traditional-sweets company Hope & Greenwood

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Mark Greenwood, 56

A former antiques dealer, Greenwood is co-founder of the traditional-sweets company Hope & Greenwood. He is married to Kitty Hope; they have three children and live in Kent

I first met Kitty 25 years ago at a dinner party. I was married at the time, and so was she, but I remember her for all sorts of reasons. She was extremely intelligent and very funny. I was smitten. Nothing happened, but over the following year, moving in the same circles, we kept meeting. I was working for Chesney's, the fireplace people, and one day she asked my advice about installing a fireplace in her house. I went over and knew it was time to do something. I said to her, "Look, I really fancy you. Any chance we can go for a drink, and perhaps take it from there?" I'd never done that sort of thing before, but it all snowballed from there. [The pair married in 2000.]

Kitty was working as a senior designer at [the publisher] Macmillan, then she was headhunted to work at a design company, but I knew that she was looking for another challenge. One night, just over a decade ago, she said to me, "Whatever happened to all those wonderful old sweet shops?" Next thing we knew, we'd found a space in East Dulwich, and Hope & Greenwood was born.

The initial idea was that this was going to be Kitty's enterprise, but it soon became clear there was no way she could do it all by herself. I was in a bit of a career cul-de-sac myself, so one day I quit Chesney's and made the leap. Thing is, I neglected to tell Kitty. When I did, she wasn't best pleased. We'd both gone from two really well-paid jobs to zero overnight. But I told her that it was a little like pregnancy: you can't be half in; it's all or nothing.

That first year, 2004, setting up the shop together was difficult. We were very stress-tested, and it was probably the worst year we had as a couple. We had both been used to being bosses, I think, and there was no demarcation of responsibility in this new venture; we overlapped. Consequently, a lot of the time we just wanted to run away from each other at any given opportunity, just to have some space. But we saw it out and survived it, and it strengthened us. We're rock-solid now.

One of our early customers was the development director for Conran, who wanted to put our products in their stores the following Christmas. Then Selfridges came, Harrods, Waitrose, then we opened several shops in Japan. And then came TV, and our own cookery show, BBC2's Sweets Made Simple. It's all been a real learning curve, but we've taken to it quite well, I think, because we have just been ourselves. The twirly moustache, for example, I've had for 20 years; it's not like I'm trying to latch on to Shoreditch.

I think people like us because we are ourselves. I quite like the attention, more than Kitty, probably. We rented a canal barge last summer, and were recognised on the canals three or four times a day, people wanting to take selfies with us. Kitty gets embarrassed by the attention, but not me. I love it.

Kitty Hope, 49

A former children's book designer, Hope worked on 'The Gruffalo' with writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. She has since written four recipe books for cakes and sweets. She says she is 49, adding: 'But that's a lie'

I remember the dinner party as much as I remember Mark: boeuf Wellington, then profiteroles. The profiteroles were particularly nice. But Mark? I thought he was an oik. He had long hair – a ponytail! – and an earring, and jeans that were two sizes too small. Hmm. Maybe it was the jeans that got me?

No, no. I know what appealed: his kindness. I thought he was the kindest man I had ever met, really thoughtful, generous, loving. Still is. He makes me laugh every day. For girls, or for me at least, that is quite important.

It's hard to know when we became a couple officially, but I do remember the Fireplace Evening. He was working for Chesney's and I asked him to come to my house and look at my… opening. It was a wintry night, and it was getting darker and darker, but he seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. He was just sat on my sofa in my kitchen, and eventually he looked me straight in the eye and said, "I really fancy you." I wanted to die of embarrassment.

It's funny. There I was, hoping for a fireplace – and a generous discount – and instead I ended up with a marriage. We had both been married before, and had children, so us getting together in the first place wasn't easy, but we got there in the end. One of the first things I did was march him to the barber and have his ponytail cut off, and then got rid of the earring. I also twirled his moustache. I take full credit, today, for his gorgeousness.

We work well together, but at first, oh, it was absolutely horrendous, divorce city for a year. We were both vying to be top dog, and it took him a long time to realise I was the boss. But it was a horrible time. I had to lock him out of the house once because he had been so badly behaved. I would only converse with him through the letter box.

But we survived it, and the business took off. There may be lots of vintage-style sweet shops around today, but there weren't when we had the idea. I suppose I had the idea initially because I have a very sweet tooth – but fewer fillings than you would expect.

I'm constantly surprised by our success: the shops, the books, the TV series. I find it quite embarrassing when people approach me. I'm overwhelmed by it. We get a lot of love from people in the street. They hug us a lot, and I just find that completely overwhelming.

But it has given us a lot of ambition. I've always been very cerebrally active, always on to the next thing, the next flavours, the next book, the next TV series. I'm the accelerator in this partnership; Mark is the brakes.

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